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Why Knowing Your Address Can Be the Difference Between Life and Death

Updated: Apr 14, 2020

Time is of the essence. This is particularly true during emergencies when seconds matter. Knowing your home, work, and close friends and relatives’ addresses can make a difference during a 911 call.

There are some limitations to our current 911 system. When calling from a cellular phone, most 911 dispatch centers will not know your exact location. This is an identified gap in our emergency response systems. Governments, cellular phone companies, and cellular telephone service providers are currently working to address this gap. In the future, new technology will make this issue better, but it is still several years away from becoming a reality.

The bottom line, for now, is that you should never assume that the 911 dispatch center knows your address, especially when calling from a cellular phone.

We are shocked. During our training, we routinely discover that 25% or more of the staff do not know their work address.

During training, it was actually brought up to us by a director - she was worried that many of her staff did not know the address of their child care program. Sure enough, we tested the staff and we were shocked. Since then, we have conducted the test all over the country - and surprisingly, it is usually with the same results. One simple step you can take today is ensuring your staff knows their address.

Whether you keep an address book in your phone, the cloud, or written down, be sure to include addresses of the places you’re most likely to be, such as your home, work, your child’s daycare center, school, after-school activities, or the homes of family and close friends.

The Importance of Knowing Your Address: Visiting Wood County Dispatch Center

Our Executive Director, Andrew Roszak, recently visited the Wood County 911 Dispatch Center in West Virginia. He met up with Dustin, a 911 dispatcher. Dustin says, “A lot of people don’t know their address, and they don’t know their businesses’ address (where they work).” Dustin said Wood County 911 frequently runs into this problem at apartment buildings because many people don’t know the name or the address of their apartment complex.

Dustin says:

  • If you’re on a long stretch of road, be aware that there may be more than one location of a business on the same road.

  • Knowing your address lets 911 lock into your location immediately, and lets them respond as fast as possible to assist you with the right agencies.

  • Post your address (home or work) in a visible location where it can easily be seen.

  • Make sure your address is visible on the outside of your home or work building.

First Responders Could Not Reach a Caller Infected with the Flu Virus

A tragic reminder of not knowing your address just occurred on February 10, 2020, in Troy, New York. Dispatch received a garbled 911 call from a young man, but the system was unable to pinpoint his location. The call went dead with no further information.

Five police officers, three firefighters, and police K-9 units searched a large apartment complex for over 45 minutes but were unable to locate the caller. The search was finally terminated after exhausting all efforts, and the caller was found dead six hours later by his roommate. The caller died from complications from influenza A.

What Went Wrong During the 911 Call

According to EMS1, “The victim’s 911 call was hard to decipher, though authorities couldn't say if that was due to a language barrier, his deteriorating condition or a bad connection. The line went dead before they could learn the caller's identity.”

EMS1 then detailed how and why emergency responders could not locate the victim:

  • The dispatcher could only provide a couple of clues to the rescuers: “Difficult to understand. The caller is a male.”

  • The dispatch system was only able to give police and firefighters a general location, where two five-story apartment buildings face each other from either side of the street.

  • The responders called RPI (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) and went to the front desk in City Station West, which is a popular spot for college students to live, but they could not find the caller’s apartment.

  • Another complication involved the victim’s China-based cell phone carrier. U.S. carriers are far more accessible in a fast-moving search for a 911 caller. While the victim’s phone had a 518 area code, there was no way to identify him by name through the phone.

This incident illustrates the need for everyone to know their address and location when calling 911 for all emergencies. Dispatch center upgrades such as Smart 911 and Next Generation 911 are now in progress, but both programs are not available in the majority of jurisdictions, and they may not be available for a few years.

This is important stuff and we spend a good deal of time talking about communications during our in-person and online active shooter preparedness courses.

The Institute for Childhood Preparedness offers training to help your staff prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies and disasters. Book emergency preparedness or active shooter preparedness training in English or Spanish today:

1 Comment

Jun 29

It's a simple but often overlooked detail that can make all the difference. On a lighter note, while we're discussing things to be aware of, I'm reminded of the infamous rice purity test - another piece of information that's good to have handy, though perhaps not as life-saving as your home address! All kidding aside, the key takeaway here is clear - being prepared with essential details can be the difference between life and death in an emergency situation.

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